Looking for God’s Goodness in contemplation and prayer. Temperance in a Modern World. Acquiring virtue. In the face of all the inducements against the practice of temperance that the world throws at us today, how can people hope to acquire this indispensable virtue?
The first step is introspection. Getting to know ourselves better — in this case, getting a realistic understanding of the species of intemperance that’s a problem for each of us. Almost certainly it’s something, and to fight it we have to find out what it is. Eating or drinking too much? At least those are fairly obvious faults. But if it’s something more subtle, it may require some serious effort to bring it out into the light.
In that case, we may benefit from an experienced adviser who knows us well. That’s what spiritual direction is all about. Not that a spiritual director will tell you flat-out what your problem is and what you should do about it. But a good one can help guide you to finding those things out for yourself. Bear in mind, too, that regular, repeated acts of voluntary self-denial are classic means for acquiring the habit of temperance. And among them is fasting. In recent times, the Church has greatly reduced its laws on fasting. That leaves it up to us to take up the slack for ourselves.
Here it may be useful to recall something the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper says in the chapter on temperance in his wonderful book “The Four Cardinal Virtues.” (Pieper wrote the book before the Church relaxed its fasting laws, but what he says is still eminently sound.) Fasting, he remarks, is often thought to be “something extraordinary,” something only for ascetics and saints, but St. Thomas Aquinas calls it “a commandment of the natural law … intended for the average Christian.” Pieper goes on:
“Whoever has not reached the maturity of perfection — that is, all of us ordinary Christians — could not preserve, without recourse to the medicine, the discipline, of fasting, that inner order by virtue of which the turbulence of sensuality is kept in check and the spirit liberated. …
“Our natural duty obliges us to pay dearly so that we may become what we are by essence: the free moral person in full possession of himself.”
Temperance, supported by a tried and true practice like fasting, is the key to doing that. And the reward is great. As Pope Francis says in praising sobriety, “Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer” (Laudato Si‘, No. 223).
Is there something you need to fast from today? If I’m tempted to eat standing up in a rush, I will “give that behavior up,” slow down, sit and enjoy the gift of my meal in gratitude.
Weekly Reflection Summary: A Pure Heart.
Sunday. Temperance. The will’s mastery over instincts, keeping desires within honorable limits.
Monday. Trust. How do you hear the Spirit’s voice urging to trust in loving providence?
Tuesday. Simplicity. A virtue that helps us grow in purity, trust God more and grow in apostolic zeal.
Wednesday. Coming Home. The problem begins when I start seeing myself as separate from God.
Thursday. Desire. My confession, I struggle with discipline.
Friday. Covid Reset. Sometimes it takes a big smack on the head to get my attention.